The Columbus Blue Jackets are nearly through the first half of their season.
With the 2023 NHL All-Star Break descending upon sunny Florida this weekend, where FLA Live Arena will host the world's best, this presents an opportunity to stop and assess what's ahead in the second half for the Blue Jackets.
Before we get to that, Columbus is back home at Nationwide Arena to face off with the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night, fresh off a 1-2-1 western Canadian road trip.
The trip included a gutsy 4-3 overtime loss against the Calgary Flames in Johnny Gaudreau's return, a surprising 3-2 overtime win where Kirill Marchenko and Kent Johnson lifted the team to victory over Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, a 5-2 loss against newly minted head coach Rick Tocchet and the Vancouver Canucks in which Marchenko continued to make history with two more goals, and a 3-1 loss against one of the best comeback stories of the season, the first-place Seattle Kraken.
The Blue Jackets' first half surely wasn't one to remember, and many will be ready to toss what transpired on the ice into the abyss.
Surely, the All-Star Break and ensuing rest period will come at a much-needed time for the team, players, and fans alike, with the clubs' longest break of the season—nine days in between games—before facing the Toronto Maple Leafs for a home-and-home to kick start the season's second half on Feb. 10.
When the Blue Jackets resume their season against the Maple Leafs, they will return to action as the league's worst team. That fact probably doesn't excite many fans, but as everyone is aware by now, a top-heavy and loaded upcoming NHL draft surely leaves an exciting what-if possibility for those teams who will be in play for the top of the NHL Draft Lottery.
Which will include Columbus.
Aside from the chance of playing for one of the very top picks, the Blue Jackets will have 31 games remaining this season to evaluate their current roster options.
What do they have for next season?
Maximize Your Core
How can they further maximize the likes of Marchenko and Johnson—two players in the top 10 among rookies in goal scoring—in terms of developing their game for the remaining part of the schedule?
Marchenko looks to be a lock to become the franchises' best goal-scoring rookie since Pierre-Luc Dubois when he scored 20 goals in 2017-18. At Marchenko's rate, he might get there before March. Will he score 20 goals before registering his first career assist?
If he scores 17 goals before an assist, he'll join history from a century ago.
Some Kirill Marchenko stats:— Jeff Svoboda (@JacketsInsider) January 27, 2023
--5th player in NHL history to have each of his first 10 or more career points come on goals
--4th among NHL rookies in goals
--10th all-time among #CBJ rookies in goals
--Tied for the most tallies ever by a Jackets player in the first 25 career games
Kirill Marchenko became the fourth player in NHL history to have each of his first 12+ career regular-season points come in the form of goals, joining Joe Malone (16 in 1917-18), John McKinnon (13 in 1926-27) and Howie Morenz (12 in 1923-24).#NHLStats: https://t.co/xJLu35WWoU https://t.co/RUVzZv08JX— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) January 28, 2023
Cole Sillinger, a standout rookie last season, has fallen hard into a sophomore slump this year, with only seven points (two goals, five assists) in 45 games. He talked about taking the next step in his own game at last May's end-of-season press conference and now he's hoping to find his offensive spark over the final 31 games.
Coaching has been a topic of criticism among Blue Jackets fans. Head coach Brad Larsen and his staff have definitely not been dealt any favors with the numerous amount of injuries that kicked in from the start of the season. Patrik Laine left the season opener and then missed more time later on. The loss of Zach Werenski is a big blow, and the list goes on and on. All teams deal with injuries but it certainly makes the road tougher to navigate.
With one more year on Larsens' contract after this season, he may not really be coaching for his job at this point, but how the team finishes out the string, coupled with how the staff can maximize its talent goes a long way for next season and beyond.
It's hard to know exactly what changes lie ahead for a rebuilding team, but one thing you can certainly count on is changes to the current roster with the Mar. 3 trade deadline looming. Vladislav Gavrikov looks to be headed out the door.
Joonas Korpisalo looks to be an intriguing depth and backup option for teams down the stretch. Gus Nyquist is a UFA this summer but is now out indefinitely after getting hurt in Edmonton on Jan. 25.
Even if the Blue Jackets end up with Connor Bedard in the draft, they still have lots of holes to fill.
Larsen attempted to grow Merzlikins' game by starting him down the stretch in just about every game last April, but the goalie has regressed this season, with small signs of life in recent outings.
Injuries, coinciding with positive on-ice performances for young players, leave the coaching staff with little choice other than to ice those that are playing well.
Tough way to end the road trip for #CBJ. But this was nice to see.— Mark Scheig (@mark_scheig) January 29, 2023
Kent Johnson (19:54) and Kirill Marchenko (19:03) were the most-used forwards outside of the top line. They've been among only players to score of late. Nice to see them getting a bigger opportunity with TOI.
That should include Marchenko, Johnson, and many of the youngsters who are trying to develop their NHL game.